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All the Options for Schooling Are Bad—But We Have to Choose Safety

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/09/20/all-options-schooling-are-bad-we-have-choose-safety

Internationally, a pronounced pattern of more resurgent hazard than anticipated asserts itself all over Europe today (no need to list countries: practically all of 'em, with Spain in the lead at the moment). It’s been extremely ominous, because the European pattern almost assuredly illustrates what’s ahead for USA shortly – Question: What happens when mobility and interchange restrictions drop in the context of fairly widespread infection? Answer: We see fresh peaks – new heights in outbreak trajectories – arising in Europe today.

This is not the case everywhere on Earth. Where on Earth do we find countries without awful resurgences? In precisely those countries where denial was at an absolute minimum, so that public health precautions were taken most seriously by the population as a whole. We’re obviously talking about Southeast Asia and New Zealand for the most part: places where they catch a local outbreak in a supermarket and stop it cold with renewed public-health vigor. (Can you even imagine getting to such a condition in USA?)

The contrast before us, in current outbreak statistics, illuminates the critical function of COVID’s most key leverage: cultural denial receptors. Where denial has been strongest – even if only episodically – those will be the places COVID persists most tenaciously. All strongly indicating COVID’s worst wreckage is yet to come, here in USA.



I have taught in online and brick-and-mortar classrooms for a couple decades now. To the best of my knowledge, a solution here, even partial solutions that are likely what will happen, will have to involve some empirical experiments.
I doubt that there is an altogether safe response here. But that need not be a reason to return quickly to what previously existed.

Given a changed media environment, the elements that we traditionally regard as parts of education combine and optimize differently. The needs of humans and particularly of children, being mostly genetically determined, remain as they have for tens of thousands of years. But their resolution becomes different.

Schools address various needs and circumstances. These might be categorized differently in relation to different projects and events, but the following observations have been helpful in relation to moving things online:

  • A need for face-to-face socialization–radically missing from Western society
  • A need for training in skills
  • A need for the conveyance of recorded intellectual information, including understanding of background assumptions and paradigms
  • A need for broadening of perspective intellectually and socially, including the recognition of paradigms pursuant to participation in an extended social group
  • The need to re-work most of the above ideas for various styles of learning (visual, hands-on, verbal and so forth)
  • A need for sufficient personal safety and autonomy to manage the above in some context
  • A need, under present circumstances, for licensing
  • A social demand to separate parents from children so as to dedicate parents to wage work away from the site of home and education

Traditionally, we have responded to all of these with the one institution school. Perhaps we would do better to split at least some of these up. I have long wondered how it might work to divide teaching and testing for grades and licensing, since these are alien and largely opposed facets of education. On the other hand, where this has been implemented, in “No Child Left Behind” and programs of standardization before and after, the results have been clearly detrimental to process because tests that mean almost nothing come to direct almost everything.

In the current environment, we might do well to split study from socialization. Intellectual materials can be delivered effectively online. It is actually the easiest way, at least beyond the first years of schooling and possibly, given enough social support, even then. Traditional schools were not wonderful places to socialize, apart from the very real advantages of being put together socially with large numbers of other persons that one can be certain of seeing again for some stretch. Many of us remember school socialization fondly, but in large part because that is so much of the socialization that Westerners are granted. In practice, those of us who could usually did prefer to play with friends.

Instead of bringing kids to school to socialize under draconian institutional restrictions, it might work better to allow them to socialize more freely and intensely, but in groups that are smaller and might thereby involve less chance for infection. Even with all the professionally followed training and precautions at hospitals, hospitals remain grand centers for the spread of disease, in large part because of their institutional structure. For conveniences of labor and access by too few practitioners, patients are herded into large facilities with little separation, so they predictably get sick. If we push kids into 30-student classrooms with rowed desks, airborne infectious disease will predictably spread, Covid included. And they will return home and infect relatives, as has long been the general case.

Why not hold the class online, but choose some subset of the community to participate with your student? Why not organize study-play-talk-hang-out groups that involve parents or relatives with smaller groups of children–ideally greater than five, let’s say, and certainly not greater than about 13. Present everyone’s study materials as matters that the group can address, and then people can work things out together or individually. Take frequent breaks that involve activity and autonomy so that minds can re-set.

This is not risk-free, by any means. But neither are prolonged periods of non-socialization, particularly not for children and young adults. This probably requires a reduction of adult involvement in work away from the house. But you know, parental absence has been a problem that has stalked us since the vaunted Industrial Revolution, and it is high time we faced it anyway. Maybe clever people can sort out some sort of arrangement between underemployed young adults and supervised study with face time for kids.

For what it is worth, your kids’ teachers are signing up for my grad courses in unprecedented numbers in 2020. That mostly means that they are hoping to teach community college or undergraduate courses, though I have to imagine that their success in the upcoming market might be mixed and might trend towards the less lucrative (for teachers) private short-career colleges. Grad student problems are different, though; mostly, I think, they wish the society and its demands would cut them some slack for a few weeks so that they can do their reading without the phone ringing or the Net connection cutting out on the ship or ordinance blowing up outside the window in the middle of Walt Whitman.

Best of luck, all–I’d love to see some fresh solutions here. We have so much to do.


One suggestion might be instruction in infection control and cross contamination in public settings or personal exchanges. How to identify risks for different group situations. You can’t be responsible for learning if you are compromised by the process. Maybe we should examine existing relationships for clues.

This didn’t happen overnight and narcissism has been institutionalized in this system and that needs to change.

That’s what I’ve been seeing - we just shut down.

Our son was about to online Grade 11 - just a few days before - we all had a talk - year sabattical.

Our son is an A+ student - both at Grade 10 normal and last one third online.

I was not ready for McGill at 17 - with this neocon gov’t here in Alberta - trying to inch in privatization of both schools and medicine - we’re out for the year.

I’ve been reading Madeleine Albright’s “Fascism - A Warning” (2018) - absolutely what I wanted - history from somebody who has lived it - twice displaced from Czechoslovakia - grandparent murdered -

Not finished yet - but I’ve been doing some homework on WW II - Trump has got that same belief in his infallibility that Il Duce and Hitler had.

Similar fanatical followers - feeling left out - envious to a fault - need a stronger term.

Not much point in speculating now - we’ll see what transpires November 3 - maybe this will all go away - NOT.

If your country can’t suck it up and stop this bastard - we’re in deep trouble.

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Why I wonder about you, frankly: If you were less enthusiastic a fan of unconscionably repellent establishment authors such as Maddow & Albright, I’d have less to sigh about. Good Christ, MS! Albright is offensive historical ugliness. Saying her name makes me feel like throwing up. Is that clear enough?

Back to the subject of (ordinary, non-predatory) human beings, who might be concerned about the level of infection in their state, the COVID outbreak in four states is peaking at this writing (according to CDC’s 7-day avg): Montana, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Nine more states are very close to their September peaks: Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, N&S Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. But it’s not much safer anywhere else in USA.


Being in the oil business for eighteen years, Maddow’s description of how fracking came to be in “Blowout” was as fine a piece of writing as I’ve seen.

Albright’s historical conception of the rise of fascism, first in Italy, later in Germany, the similar trajectories followed by Stalin, despite a very different (supposedly) ideology - surpass any of the other historical accounts I have read. I’m on the chapter now that includes Yugoslavia’s breakup - and its sordid aftermath. Since she was born in Czechoslovakia, and her father a renowned diplomat, twice forced to flee for their lives, and since they sought asylum finally in the States - well - you know, being the first woman Secretary of State in the Union’s history and all - I thought she would be worth listening to.

I am not that hard to read - a liberal to my toes.

Neoliberal - neoconservative - they meet some of the criteria for Albright’s definition of fascism:

“Fascism is not an ideology; it’s a process for taking and holding power.”

  • Madeleine Albright, “Fascism: A Warning” (2018)

Look at the fix you are in - no matter who wins - you lose, but if Trump wins - well, what can I say.

It seems practically everyone is in a form of denial in the States - you have already been taken over by corporatism - long time ago - remember Ike ? Remember JFK, his brother.

Then this string of charlatans from Reagan on - I thought no one could be worse than ‘W’ - but I was wrong. It was inconceivable to me that W could be re-elected - wrong there too.

I’m getting tired of being wrong - but I hope my prediction that Trump will emerge as defacto dictator will just add to my list of political wrongs, for all our sakes.

I think we will be looking elsewhere for democracy soon.

May I please be wrong there too.

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Clear enough - but I disagree.

Chris Hedges wrote a book, “Death of the Liberal Class”, but I am a Liberal, and not dead as far as I am aware. But politically, where are the Liberal or Democratic politicians ? There are some I imagine, but in this hall of mirrors it is difficult to identify them.

PS: Just saw this on another thread - it is what I believe in:

"She spoke of a professor of constitutional law at Cornell who, during the McCarthy era of red baiting and persecution, helped inspire her to become a lawyer. "He wanted me to be aware that our country was straying from its most basic values. That is, the right to think, speak, and write as you believe. And not what a big brother government tells you is the right way to think, speak, and write."

  • Justice Ginsburg
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Perhaps you can make up for that sin by devoting your precious remaining time to authors worth reading. There are so many. We don’t have to waste our lives studying Mein Kampf at this point – there are enlightened people, human beings who do not make light of USA complicity in the death of half a million Iraqi children, non-monstrous thinkers to consult. So long as you fail to improve your taste in reading immediately, you will continue to be absolutely stuck with lethally mediocre thinking.

As a complicit US American, it is difficult to describe the amplitude of my personal sense of disgust with the stain of the state crimes that terrible woman implicates me in – proudly! Shame on you for not being ashamed of reading someone that satanic.

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You are sounding strident there Aleph.

“satanic” - WoW !

Thanks but no thanks - I’ll read and think as I wish.

Satanic, for infamously belittling the death of half a million Iraqi children? What word would you prefer, white man, genocidal? That’s precisely – with no exaggeration – the historical stain malefactors like Albright have left on the world stage. Obviously you don’t give a shit, MS. That’s why I wonder what the hell you’re doing here, where some folks care about things like genocide. The very idea of consulting a great war criminal on the subject of fascism!? You bring new dimensions in mediocrity to this forum if you continue in stubborn ignorance of what this post sincerely (if ineffectively) hopes to tell you: Just because you’ve always been heartless, that doesn’t mean you have to die that way. Each new day – including this very day – you’ve always got the option of becoming a human being, should you choose to accept it.

Incidentally, you with your planet-consumptive livelong profession are not the only one faced with the perplexity of having made ghastly career choices, morally. Practically anyone sufficiently mature and sensitive would face the same problem. The world didn’t turn out the way anyone expected. We can adapt to that, morally. We have the necessary strength to pull this off, even though it’s extremely difficult. Now I’m clean out of time for boring people who self-identify with butt-headedness. Sorry MS.